One of the biggest issues the Arizona Coyotes have struggled with this season, along with a lack of scoring, is injuries to goalies. At the start of the season, the team looked to build off the strong play from goalie Darcy Kuemper and occasionally Antti Raanta. That wasn’t the case, though, as Kuemper went down with a minor injury on Feb. 24 in a game against the Anaheim Ducks. He returned four games later against the Wild but ultimately went down again on March 8 in a game against the Colorado Avalanche, this time missing the next 19 games.
The news only got worse as the original prognosis in the following weeks was that Kuemper could potentially miss the rest of season. This was a tough pill to swallow for a team that relies heavily on him, a guy who single-handedly stole them a win in the playoffs last season against Colorado and continually plays lights-out. There were lots of questions and thoughts floating around about what the Coyotes needed to do, and coaching staff and management were tasked with making a decision of where to go with goaltending.
Without Kuemper and Raanta for the time being, the team turned to their taxi squad goalie Adin Hill. Arizona also recalled Ivan Prosvetov from Tucson to serve as the backup for Hill for the time being. Without their star ace in goal, the Coyotes bounced back and forth from struggles to success. While the trio of Hill, Raanta, and Prosvetov helped the Coyotes to steal some wins, they ultimately struggled along with the team and lacked the reassurance Kuemper brings with him to the team.
After a long 19-game stretch where the Coyotes went 7-10-2, the team got the news they’d been anxiously waiting for. Kuemper made his official return on April 17 on an emotional night in which the organization inducted recently passed 9-year-old Leighton Accardo into their team’s Ring of Honor. The emotion and fuel from Kuemper’s return sparked the Coyotes back into life as they rallied back from a 2-0 deficit after one to win 3-2 against the St. Louis Blues.
With Kuemper back in the crease, the Coyotes looked to build momentum around their star goalie and start clicking on all cylinders. That wasn’t the case, though, as the team dropped back-to-back games against the Minnesota Wild following the come-from-behind win against the Blues.
While it’s worth noting that Kuemper hadn’t played in over a month, there is definitely reason to believe that his nagging lower-body injury could be a reoccurring thing that hinders his play. He’s registered a .866 save percentage in three games since his return and hasn’t seemed to have found his footing. This an issue for the team as they constantly look to him when he’s in net to be their saving grace, but if he’s not healthy, then what?
Can Arizona Turn The Ship Around With Kuemper?
One of the biggest issues that the team faces currently is a lack of scoring. The defense also been subpar at best a lot of times this season. When both of these are combined, it makes for poor results, which in most cases, results in the goalie being left out to dry, trying to win the game by himself. While that’s not always the case, it is worth noting that the Coyotes have had to play catch-up quite a bit this season.
While they’ve found ways to respond and come back with wins like with Anaheim and St. Louis, they ultimately find themselves trailing by two or three with under five minutes to play. This results in the team running out of time by the time they get going and start building momentum.
This results in Kuemper, a majority of the time, being left to stand on his head to keep his team in games and the playoff picture. While there’s hope that he finds his touch again and the team can find the back of the net more often, they ultimately have to hope and rely on the teams ahead of them to keep St. Louis, San Jose, and Los Angeles from jumping them. Kuemper isn’t having the best of seasons, as he’s 8-9-2 with a goals-against average of 2.50 and a save percentage of .908 in 21 games so far.
With only nine games left in the season and the team only a point ahead of St. Louis who has games in hand on Arizona, everybody is responsible for stepping up if the team wants to be back in the playoffs for a second straight year. Kuemper provides reassurance to the team that they can hang with anybody, but it’s up to the team to do their job if they want to win those games and prove they can hang with the best. All eyes are on Kuemper and the Coyotes in these final nine games and the season at this point relies on hope and luck.
Mr. Evans is originally from Greenville, SC where he currently resides. Mr. Evans has been involved in hockey for the past 16 years now, following the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues. During his free time, Mr. Evans enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend as well as being up in the mountains or taking pictures. Prior to joining The Hockey Writers, Mr. Evans previously worked for The Puck Authority, covering the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. You can find Mr. Evans on Twitter at @HaynesPEvans.